Pioneer Wireless Reseller Helio Makes Lacklustre Return to Mobile Market, Offers Ultra-Slow Unlimited Data Plan

by Matt Klassen on July 8, 2015

The story of mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Helio is a classic tale of the one hit wonder; as the company exploded onto the mobile scene in 2006, only to flame out a few short years later.

Now with a new parent company and a new deal, the company has quietly returned as a renewed wireless reseller, offering a $29/month unlimited talk, text and data plan that will run on Sprint’s network with access to Verizon Wireless for roaming.

While on the face of it the plan seems extremely competitive, particularly given the mobile market’s current aversion to unlimited data, the fine print reveals the truly disappointing nature of Helio’s return, as the MVNO will only move data at 128 kilobits/second, roughly equivalent to dial-up modem speeds, which makes sense, I suppose, given the entire company seems trapped a decade in the past.

Now you may not remember the name Helio (heck, do we remember anything from 2006?) but I would guess if you were around the mobile scene in 2006 you likely heard the name, as the company was one of the poster children for the erstwhile new age of the wireless reseller. In fact, the company’s efforts to enter the mobile market through buying, leasing, and reselling network access helped give rise to an entirely new industry, lending credence to the idea that any company could conceivably jump into the mobile business.

It was an idea that many companies—and notably rapper Puff Daddy—attempted to capitalize on, with the likes of Disney and ESPN launching their own uniquely branded wireless services. However, much like Helio, these MVNOs struggled to differentiate themselves in the market, failing to convince mobile subscribers that they could offer substantively more than established operators like Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint.

In fact, after its much hyped launch in 2006, Helio was bought up by Virgin Mobile a short two years later, with Virgin scuttling the service and the entire Helio brand in 2010.

But where Helio and Virgin both failed, Korean telco UBI Telecom is hoping to succeed, reviving the Helio brand and offering a “worry free” $29/month unlimited talk, text and data plan.

I have to wonder though, if even with such an offer Helio will have any chance in the ultra-competitive American wireless space. As CNET’s Roger Cheng explains, even with the company’s strong start, it never really established a large customer base, sporting only 100,000 subscribers when the service ended, compared to Sprint’s 57.1 million customers this last quarter.

Although the company’s price point is substantially lower than rival Sprint (at $60/month), what will truly hamstring Helio’s return is the fact that its offer has serious limitations. The maximum connection speed will be 128 kilobits, again roughly the speed of dial-up access, and pales in comparison to the current industry standard. To wit, Verizon offers network speeds of 5 to 12 megabits per second, 40 times faster. (see the company’s laughable video for justifying its slow network speeds here)

While the existence of MVNOs like Google, Wal-Mart and other companies likely have Helio to thank for ostensibly helping to create a new niche industry within the mobile space, now five years later the reality is that Helio is a dinosaur, a relic of a bygone age, clearly evidence by the company’s archaic network access speeds. While there may be some out there who don’t really care about fast connections or new devices, it likely won’t be enough to keep the company afloat, meaning Helio’s return to the mobile space will likely end exactly the same as it’s first time around, slipping into irrelevance with barely a whisper.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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